It was a milestone victory for the Thunder Mountain Falcons on Tuesday as they beat the Kayhi boys basketball team 46-38 in the opening game of the Southeast region tournament in Ketchikan.
"Our first region win and our first time beating Kayhi on their floor," said sophomore forward Ben Jahn with a huge grin after the Falcons celebrated the victory in their team room at the high school. "It feels really good."
With the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium rocking in front of dueling pep bands and cheer squads, it was Thunder Mountain that was rolling early.
The Falcons scored the first six points of the game, all by junior swingman Keith Ainsworth. Thunder Mountain took an 11-2 lead on a 3-point basket by Ty Grussendorf and held an 18-7 advantage after the first quarter.
But behind a suffocating defense and solid free-throw shooting, Kayhi battled back, eventually taking a 35-32 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 3-point basket by senior Kyle Day.
The Falcons quickly regained the lead, going up 37-35 on an inside bucket by Sam Jahn and a 3-pointer by Matt Seymour on their next two possessions. Thunder Mountain used a patient offensive attack down the stretch, and Kayhi's Day missed a pair of game-tying 3-point attempts in the final minute, as the Falcons held on for the win.
"Coach (Eric) Stockhausen's kids are always so mentally strong, you knew they weren't going to bow down," Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco said. "I called a time out (after Kayhi took the lead), and told the guys to stay focused, to just go one bucket at a time and stay patient. They got two good buckets and stayed patient after that."
The Kings shot just 27 percent from the floor and played the majority of the first half without senior center Travis Taylor, who got in early foul trouble.
"I thought we played fairly well defensively," Stockhausen said. "I'm real proud of the effort my kids put in. When you put that much focus and energy on that end of the court, but there are two ends of the court and we never got into a rhythm offensively."
The Kings hit only three field goals in the first half, two by Day and one by Taylor. The rest of the scoring came from the free-throw line.
"The longer we went without getting into a rhythm, the worse it got. Then we started trying to force some passes inside," Stockhausen said. "But hats off to coach Blasco and the boys. They grinded one out. I thought they played well."
Boasting a roster dominated by juniors and sophomores, the Falcons see more victories in their long-term future, but they don't think they are done winning in this year's tournament. Thunder Mountain plays top-seeded Juneau-Douglas at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday in the double-elimination tournament. The Falcons lost aall four games they played against Juneau this year, including a close 50-44 loss on Saturday.
"We know we have a future of winning the next couple years, which makes it feel even better," Jahn said. "The last two times we played Juneau we pretty much beat ourselves. We just have to put a solid game together and we can definitely do it."
If the Falcons play like they did in the first quarter on Tuesday, they would have a chance to upset the Crimson Bears.
Sam Jahn finished off the strong start by driving for a layup just before time expired in the first quarter to give Thunder Mountain an 18-7 lead. It was the last field goal the Falcons would score in the first half.
Despite getting seven offensive rebounds in the second quarter, Thunder Mountain was held to a single point in the second quarter as the Kings came charging back.
Kayhi outscored Thunder Mountain 10-1 in the second quarter and had an opportunity to tie the game just before the half, but Donavan Bean's inside shot at the buzzer just rimmed out.
"We went 0 for 13 in the second quarter," Blasco said. "We got a lot of shots up, but there was a lid on the basket. We lost the purpose of finishing our shots. We were shooting, but without a purpose. And their defense was all over us."
Kyle Day's three-point play early in the second quarter got the Kings started on their comeback and was the only field goal by either team in the second quarter. Auger hit four free throws and Mark Dulay added three free throws as Kayhi worked its way back into the came with aggressive play around the basket. Matt Seymoure hit one of two free throws at the 3:28 mark of the second quarter for Thunder Mountain's only points of the second frame.
With Travis Taylor on the bench having picked up two early fouls, Brien Auger picked up the intensity and took over inside. Auger didn't score a field goal, but he snared a number of offensive boards and was fouled five times while going up for shots in the lane. Auger hit 7 of 10 free throws.
The Falcons also started the second half strong, scoring the first two baskets on Sam and Ben Jahn to push the lead back to 23-17. The Kings cut the lead to a single point twice, the first on an inside basket by Taylor, and the second time on a three-point play by Taylor.
Another three-point play by Taylor tied the game 32-32 at the 6:25 mark of the fourth quarter. At that point Taylor had scored the last eight Kayhi points. Less than a minute later, Day drained a 3-pointer to give the Kings their first and only lead of the game.
Thunder Mountain responded with the next seven points, going back up 39-35 and the Falcons never relinquished the lead again.
Only four players scored for the Kings. Day led the team with 16 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Taylor added 13 points, including 11 in the second half. Auger finished with seven points, all from the free-throw line; and Dulay scored three points.
The Kings were 18 of 26 from the free-throw line. Kayhi was 8 of 13 from the line in the second quarter.
Ainsworth led the Falcons with 13 points, including eight in the first quarter. Ainsworth missed the first half of the season with an injury. He came back into the lineup in Thunder Mountain's first series of the season against Kayhi and was an immediate scoring threat, but he had quieted down a bit toward the end of the season.
"He came back pretty hot, but then he hit kind of a lull," Blasco said. "He wasn't taking efficient, high-percentage shots."
Ainsworth's first shot of the game was a high-percentage layup off a baseline drive, getting Thunder Mountain off to a strong start.
Ben Jahn added 12 points and Sam Jahn scored nine for the Falcons. Thunder Mountain was 10 of 19 from the free-throw line.
The Kings play the loser of Wednesday's Juneau-Thunder Mountain game at 8:15 p.m. Thursday in an elimination contest.
"We're lucky its a double-elimination tournament," Stockhausen said. "We'll see if we can't get out there and redeem ourselves on Thursday. Until it's over, we still have got a chance."